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Utu: A Story of Love, Hate and Revenge

Chapter XXI. The Return Visit—Rau-Kata-Mea—Mutual Amenities

page 99

Chapter XXI. The Return Visit—Rau-Kata-Mea—Mutual Amenities.

The following day Captain du Fresne was honoured with a return visit from Te Whatu Moana and his people, who came off to the ships chattering gaily, and, as they drew nearer, chanting what was supposed to be a song of amity. The canoes on this occasion, instead of containing, as on the previous day, a double row of nearly nude warriors, held an almost equal proportion of the female element, with a sprinkling of youngsters, all, save the lastnamed, robed in handsome wrappers of native weaving, and wearing feathers and other adornments.

As the first canoe came alongside, Te Whatu Moana stood up, and holding aloft a freshly cut green bough, uttered some cabalistic words, and then gently struck the ship's side with it several times, after which ceremony—which the voyagers took as signifying friendship—his people swarmed aboard like so many bees—bees, too, which carried their honey with them, for, as if resolved not to be outdone by the pakeha, they had brought a regular cargo of such edibles as they had the day before observed the strangers select at the island banquet.

The chief, with the captain and a party of officers and rangatiras, made the tour of the vessel, Te Whatu and his followers interested but impassive. Their phlegm did not, however, extend to the wahines102, who were open-mouthed and vivacious in their expressions of surprise and pleasure at everything they saw, Ma-rika-rika, the beautiful wife of Te Whatu, not excepted. This young woman was accompanied by her sister, Rau-kata-mea (leaf that ever laughs or makes music), a damsel whose attractions as far surpassed her own as the golden sunlight the pale moon's beams. Decidedly the belle of the party, she engrossed the regards of all on board, and the attentions of such of the voyagers as were by their rank entitled to consort with rangatiras. She had not been at the island the day before, as she lived within her father's kainga on the mainland, and was now only on a visit to her sister. They were both, it turned out subsequently, daughters of Takori Hiko-o-te-rangi, and Rau-kata-mea his youngest and favourite child. If beauty gave her any claim, she certainly deserved the distinction, for although the majority of the young wahines were fine creatures, she unquestionably carried off the palm. Scarcely darker than a European gipsy, she was of fine though massive proportions, carrying herself with a stately page break
Bau-kata-mea was decidedly the belle of the party; she engrossed the regards of all on boarc, and the attentions of such of the voyagers as were by their rank entitled to consort with rangaliras.

Bau-kata-mea was decidedly the belle of the party; she engrossed the regards of all on boarc, and the attentions of such of the voyagers as were by their rank entitled to consort with rangaliras.

page 101 grace entirely natural. Wholly enveloped in the soft folds of a finely woven wrapper, nothing of her form was visible save her plump and shapely left arm, but her soft dark eyes, rosy smiling lips, and enticing ways were quite enough, without the aid of rounded limbs, to set the ship's company by the ears. Contrary to usual native custom—as evidenced in her associates, who all wore their ebony tresses streaming over their shoulders—her curling locks were cut short, and clustering about her well-formed head and dark handsome face added a piquancy to her alluring beauty that was perfectly irresistible. At least the French gallants found it so, and wondering much how such a splendid specimen of Nature's unvarnished handiwork had escaped the bonds of matrimony—for the absence of moko103 from her ruddy lips proclaimed her, they were told, as yet unappropriated—they clustered about her, each one eager to monopolize her regards. She however, received the attentions of all with equal favour, showing not the slightest preference for one over another. Her pleasant smile and rippling laughter, easily excited but never loud, proved her pretty name no misnomer, and while it piqued the Frenchmen that her favours were so equally dispensed, her good nature left everyone reason to hope.

But there was one among them who had marked the beautiful Maori maiden for his own, and he was one not used to let trifles stand in the way of his designs. Who should this be but the gay Monsieur d'Estrelles, whose reputation as a lady-killer had been jestingly referred to by Captain du Fresne by way of warning against thoughtless intercourse with the native women. But Monsieur d'Estrelles was not so much thoughtless as reckless. For self-gratification he would dare all risks, leaving to the chapter of accidents and his native wit his safe emergence, and, indeed, were the truth all told his experience hitherto almost justified his bold self-confidence. The fact that Rau-kata-mea received his attentions with exactly the same charming smile she bestowed upon the least considerable of her admirers did not disquiet him. He had in his time, carried much more difficult citadels than the heart of this child of nature was likely to prove, and had learned by experience that other things being equal, agreeable pertinacity would eventually carry the day against intermittent fervour. So, without obtruding himself he contrived to keep by her side during her people's somewhat lengthened visit, taking in all her visible graces, and learning from her laughing lips many a Maori idiom, quite unconscious that there was one who marked his behaviour with a smile indicative of mingled satisfaction and contempt, and, divining his intentions with unerring precision, registered a secret vow to thwart his purpose on the eve of its fulfilment. Could he have looked into the heart of his accomplished valet, could he even have caught the expression which flitted over that functionary's visage as he so resolved. Monsieur would soon have cur- page 102 tailed his attendant's power of mischief; but he was more agreeably employed, and dreaming not of pitfalls, regardless of consequences, thought only of conquest.

During the remainder of the day, which was all too short for antipodean curiosity, both ships were besieged with visitors, all coming in a friendly spirit, having doubtless heard a good account of the pakeha, and as every canoe was laden with produce designed for gifts or barter, the strangers had every facility for a radical change of diet. The aboriginals, however, did not greatly appreciate French cookery, of which the condiments sometimes occasioned a humidity of eye scarcely in keeping with rangatira immobility. As for wines and liqueurs, they were, except to a very few, unendurable, and this repugnance continued during the Frenchmen's stay. But it was soon found that those who ‘took to’ the ardent beverages of civilisation became troublesomely fond of them, their thirst growing with supply until it became insatiable.

Subsequent intercourse between the two races was of the most intimate character, and the exchange of civilities and commodities continuous. The vivacious foreigners became prime favourites with at least the softer moiety of the population, and before long most of them were as well acquainted with the interiors of the whares as with their exteriors, visiting their new friends as inclination prompted, without apparently a single thought but that these pleasant relations might last for ever. Delighted with the natives' amiability, they imagined their good nature limitless, and confident in their own luck and resources, they not seldom as time wore on committed indiscretions calculated to sorely try the patience and test the amity of the darker race, whose institutions the majority were at small pains to study, though every day acquiring more proticiency in the language.

One there was, however, who lost no opportunity not only of discovering the full significance of every unwritten law of his dusky hosts, but also of quietly ingratiating himself with them. Female attractions were lost upon Arnaud. He would sooner squat on the sunny side* of some tattooed old tohunga (priest) of boasted celestial origin than rub noses with the fairest wahin of the kainga, and his unostentatious attentions were not lost upon the old rascals. His ready tact and understanding of their language, his quick perception of their metaphors, and his daily increasing knowledge of their institutions, combined, perhaps, with his tawny skin and odd compelling gaze, to please and fascinate them. However it was, he rapidly advanced in their good graces, and in a short time no other of the ship's company, not even the genial and page 103 confiding captain, was so entirely en rapport with the more influential tangatas (men). Naku-roa, now the head of his tribe, had retained his affection for, and his powerful friendship was fully appreciated by, this strange being, who also found him a never-failing spring of information on Maori matters, his youthfulness rendering him less wary and more easily wrought upon than the old tohungas, who were somewhat chary about talking of some of their institutions. But Naku-roa. himself an hereditary priest, was much less reserved, and many a chat the two had together, and many a compact entered into, the details of which would have caused some eye-opening had they been known.

But this is anticipating. Things had not quite reached this stage on the day after the visit of Te Whatu Moana and his company, and the third of the French arrival in the Bay of Islands. On this day the captain and suite had promised to pay a formal visit to the settlement of Takori Hiko-o-te-rangi104, which was situated some distance up a small stream debouching into the bay.

‘You accompany us to-day, D'Estrelles, do you not?’ enquired the commandant gaily of that personage, who with glooming eyes stood idly watching the party's preparations. He had returned from Wai-iti, where he had passed the night with Arnaud, whose services as interpreter the captain had requested.

‘No,’ he replied, shortly, ‘I don't feel inclined.’

Du Fresne, looking at him in some surprise, noted a worried look on the handsome face, which shadowed in irritation at his regards.

‘As you will, mon ami,’ he said lightly, and turned away, not wishing to annoy his sensitive passenger.

Arnaud, who, standing in the background, had overheard the remarks, chuckled softly. ‘O'est bien, Monsieur,’ he said inwardly, but his face was as expressionless as that of an ancient tohunga.

102 Māori term for women.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

103 See note page 81.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

104 The equivalent of the real chief Te Kuri.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

* Many of the priest chiefs were so sacred that their very shadow would tapu whatever it fell on.

The moko though produced by a different process, resembles tattoo, and is so called by Europeans.